“With a Little Help from My Friends” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and intended as the album’s featured vocal for drummer Ringo Starr. The group recorded the song towards the end of the sessions for Sgt. Pepper, with Starr singing as the character “Billy Shears”.
A subsequent recording of the track by Joe Cocker became a hit single in 1968 and an anthem for the Woodstock era. In 1978, the Beatles’ recording, paired with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, was reissued as a single, and peaked at number 63 in Britain and number 71 in the United States. Starr has regularly performed the song in concert as a solo artist. “With a Little Help from My Friends” was ranked number 311 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Lennon and McCartney finished writing this song in mid-March 1967, written specifically as Starr’s track for the album. McCartney said: “It was pretty much co-written, John and I doing a work song for Ringo, a little craft job.” In 1970 Lennon stated: “Paul had the line about ‘a little help from my friends.’ He had some kind of structure for it, and we wrote it pretty well fifty-fifty from his original idea.”, but in 1980 Lennon said: “This is Paul, with a little help from me. ‘What do you see when you turn out the light/ I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine…’ is mine.” It was briefly called “Bad Finger Boogie” (later the inspiration for the band name Badfinger), supposedly because Lennon composed the melody on a piano using his middle finger after having hurt his forefinger.
The song begins with the applause from the end of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Lennon and McCartney deliberately wrote a tune with a limited range – except for the last note, which McCartney worked closely with Starr to achieve. Speaking in the Anthology, Starr explained that he insisted on changing the first line — which originally was “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you throw ripe tomatoes at me?” — so that fans would not throw tomatoes at him should he perform it live. (In the early days, after George Harrison made a passing comment that he liked jelly babies, the group was showered with them at all of their live performances.)
The song’s composition is unusually well documented, as Hunter Davies was present and described the writing process in the Beatles’ official biography.
The song is partly in the form of a conversation in which the other three Beatles sing a question — e.g. “Would you believe in a love at first sight?” where Starr answers, “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.”
The Beatles began recording the song on 29 March 1967, the day before they posed for the Sgt. Pepper album cover. They recorded 10 takes of the song, wrapping up sessions at 5:45 in the morning. The backing track consisted of Starr on drums, McCartney playing piano, Harrison playing lead guitar and Lennon beating a cowbell. At dawn, Starr trudged up the stairs to head home – but the other Beatles cajoled him into doing his lead vocal then and there, standing around the microphone for moral support. The following day they added tambourine, backing vocals, bass and more electric guitar.
To date, Starr has closed every concert performed by each version of his All-Starr Band with this song. After he is done singing, Starr tells the audience “Peace and love…peace and love is the only way…and good night”, then walks off the stage. Since 2008, the band segued right into “Give Peace a Chance”, during which Starr comes back onstage, then walks off again.
Starr performed the song with George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, George Michael, Phil Collins, Elton John, and many others at the 1987 Prince’s Trust Concert at Wembley Arena, London.
McCartney and Starr performed this song for the first time together at the David Lynch Foundation Benefit Concert in the Radio City Music Hall, New York on 4 April 2009. McCartney and Starr also performed the song together on “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles”, a commemorative show on 27 January 2014, that marked 50 years since the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show., then again in 2015 at Ringo Starr’s induction in the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame.
Ringo Starr – lead vocal, drums
John Lennon – backing vocal, cowbell
Paul McCartney – backing vocal, piano, bass guitar
George Harrison – backing vocal, rhythm and lead guitars
George Martin – Hammond organ